In Short Hills, a Newly Reopened Retreat

Following a $5 million renovation, Greenwood Gardens provides a welcome oasis.

Greenwood Gardens
The Summerhouse at Greenwood Gardens glows in the autumn light. Courtesy of Joy Yagid

We’ve all heard about the therapeutic value of gardening. What may be even more therapeutic than tending a garden is exploring one—especially in this stressful year. That’s what staff at the newly reopened Greenwood Gardens in Short Hills is counting on.

“You never want to think of disasters as offering an opportunity, but I think Covid has represented something unexpected for us,” says Abby O’Neill, executive director of the 28-acre garden, which first opened for public strolling in 2013. Last year, Greenwood cut its May-to-November season short for a $5 million renovation that included new landscaping, the addition of a rain garden and teak benches, and the reconstruction of the parking area and ticket kiosk. A collection of antique garden ornaments, among them angels, obelisks and elephants, were pulled from storage and dotted around the grounds.

greenwood gardens

The new reflecting-pool terrace as seen from the main lawn. Courtesy of Victoria Larson

Tours, limited since the September reopening to 100 at a time by appointment through closing day on November 8, are on the leisurely side. “Because we have to limit the flow of visitors, everyone’s going to have a high-quality experience,” O’Neill says. This year’s tours are self guided, with no docents because of Covid-19. “We want people to take their time, to really immerse themselves,” O’Neill adds.

While they do, O’Neill hopes visitors will reflect on the history of the place. Peter P. Blanchard Jr., a lawyer and gentleman farmer, bought the property in 1950 from Joseph P. Day, an epically successful New York City real estate broker and auctioneer. Day built the estate, which he called Pleasant Days, as a retreat from his business life. Blanchard’s son, Peter P. Blanchard III, and his wife, Sofia, started the process of turning the oasis of flowerbeds and ponds into a nonprofit conservation operation in 2003.

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O’Neill says hedges were taken down during the renovation to allow a panorama that’s truer to the site’s rural roots. “When you stand back and look at that view, it’s so peaceful,” she says. “Your blood pressure comes down.”

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